NASCAR: New crew chief, new optimism for Jamie McMurray in 2015

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One of the standout drivers in the second half of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series was Jamie McMurray, who although he failed to win a points-paying race and missed the Chase for the Sprint Cup was consistently the biggest thorn in the Chasers’ side down the road.

McMurray, in the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, ended 18th in the 2014 standings – one spot behind rookie teammate Kyle Larson – still won the Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte and secured seven top-five and 13 top-10 finishes in the season.

After a winless year, it seems quite possible that McMurray could return to victory lane in 2015.

He’ll attempt to do so with new crew chief Matt McCall, who takes the reins from Keith Rodden. This will be McMurray’s third crew chief in as many years.

“I’m super stoked about Matt,” McMurray told MotorSportsTalk at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 test last week. “He’s from the same mold that Paul Wolfe and Rodney Childers came from, where he had a driving career, peaked at that, and became crew chiefs. They do as good a job as anyone.

“From Matt’s background, he’s done a really nice job at the shop with his people skills. That’s half the job of being a crew chief, is dealing with and managing the people. I’m anxious to get to track and work with him.”

McMurray, like others, has to adapt to NASCAR’s testing ban for 2015, where only series or Goodyear tire tests are occurring. He related how big of a challenge that will be, especially considering Daytona will mark his first time working with McCall at the track.

“What’s weird is that no one ever wanted to go test, but now we can’t, and you wish you could!” McMurray explained. “It’s also a bit of a challenge for people in my position, where you haven’t worked with your crew chief. You need to learn each other, emotions, your goods and bads. We won’t have that until the Sprint Unlimited and the 150s. It would be nice to have the time before hand.”

As for the car changes coming this year, primarily in the horsepower reduction department, McMurray downplayed it and said it’s more a storyline for the media than an actual issue heading into the year.

“It won’t be too much different… it will be a good way for media to have a good story, about who adapts best to new rules package,” McMurray said. “But the people that adapt the best are the teams that do a good job getting the cars ready to go to track.

“The power side will be the bigger discrepancy,” he added. “Like every year past, there’s gonna be one engine builder ahead of everyone else. Hendrick has been amazing the last few years. I hope that they’re still on top of that. There may be a bigger discrepancy being lower horsepower than there used to be.”

Lastly McMurray gets to shake the cobwebs off – a bit – this weekend at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. He’ll share the No. 02 Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-Ford with Larson (who himself has been busy this month) and two of Ganassi’s IndyCar drivers, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan.

“It’s probably one of the best perks of driving for Chip is being a part of this event,” he said. “You’re part of a car that can win every year.”